The Geek’s Reading List – Week of July 12th 2013
I am an independent analyst and consultant with 20 years of experience as a sell side technology analyst and 13 years of prior experience as an electronics designer and software developer.
The purpose of the Geek’s Reading List is to draw attention to interesting articles I encounter from time to time. I hope that what I find interesting you will find interesting as well. These articles are not to be construed as investment advice, even though I may opine on the wisdom of the markets from time to time. That being said, it is absolutely important that investors understand the industry in which they are investing, along with the trends and developments within that industry. Therefore, I believe these comments may actually help investors with a longer time horizon.
Please feel free to pass this newsletter on. Of course, if you find any articles you think should be included, please send them on to me!
I blog at www.thegeeksreadinglist.com.
Sorry about the quality of stories tech news has been pretty thin this week.
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1. Not so quiet on the left-ern front
This is a rather amusing diatribe by Harvard man, no less. He is so right: the ‘right’ is attacked for anti-science positions on the environment, etc., while the ‘left’ promulgates all kinds of pseudo-scientific nonsense and woo.
“Type “the war on science” into Google. Hit enter. You’ve just received 1,320,000,000 results in 0.28 seconds and, unsurprisingly, “The Republican War on Science” is the top result. It’s a clichéd narrative, not to imply that it’s undeserved. But scroll down to the fifth entry and you’ll find, “The Canadian War on Science”. Canadians? Canada is typically regarded as a left-leaning nation, when measured against the American political spectrum. And left leaning parties are often viewed as embracing scientific discovery and research-based policies, right?”
2. THE INTERNET OF THINGS Shodan
Interesting on a few levels: the number of devices (given the popular view that the IoT is a non-starter) and the vulnerability of so many devices on that IoT. By the way, the number of devices is likely significantly understated as many are doubtless behind firewalls.
“When Dan Tentler wants to find something on the internet, he doesn’t use Google or Bing. Tentler, a freelance security consultant, is a road-less-traveled kind of guy. He likes to check out the internet’s alleyways and backroads. And for people like him him, there’s only one search engine. It’s called Shodan.”
3. Apple does the impossible: gain market share against Android in the US
Who would have thought a couple years ago you would ever see a headline like this? Of course, it is most likely a ‘blip’ and little more given Apple’s lack of novelty nowadays.
“Just as we predicted, Apple’s deal with T-Mobile has turned things around for the iPhone maker. The deal, in which T-Mobile became the first major US carrier to offer unlocked iPhones at full price rather than subsidized through a two-year contract, has been a big hit with consumers, who made the iPhone the number one smartphone on T-Mobile in the three month period ending in May.”
4. Disruptions: How Driverless Cars Could Reshape Cities
I continue to believe that driverless cars will transform our economies over the next 50 years or so. This goes well beyond the idea of having a snooze while driving in to work, as this article suggests.
“By now, seeing one of Google’s experimental, driverless cars zipping down Silicon Valley’s Highway 101, or parking itself on a San Francisco street, is not all that unusual. Indeed, as automakers like Audi, Toyota and Mercedes-Benz make plans for self-driving vehicles, it is only a matter of time before such cars become a big part of the great American traffic jam. While driverless cars might still seem like science fiction outside the Valley, the people working and thinking about these technologies are starting to ask what these autos could mean for the city of the future. The short answer is “a lot.”
5. 3D-printing with liquid metal at room temperature
Of course, the problem with making something of metal at room temperature is that it can just as easily be “unmade” (i.e. melt) at room temperature. Perhaps the technique could be applies to other more useful low melting temperature metals such as Wood’s metal.
“A new method for printing 3D structures and wires from liquid metal opens up possibilities for flexible and stretchable electronic connections.”
6. 5D optical memory in glass could record the last evidence of civilization
Interesting technology, but a really stupid angle – why record the “last evidence of civilization” on something nobody could read? Frankly, carving on stones would be more useful. Nonetheless, there is some truth to the fact that most ‘archival’ storage doesn’t last long, so, provided the costs to a reasonable level this could be big.
“Using nanostructured glass, scientists at the University of Southampton have, for the first time, experimentally demonstrated the recording and retrieval processes of five dimensional digital data by femtosecond laser writing. The storage allows unprecedented parameters including 360 TB/disc data capacity, thermal stability up to 1000°C and practically unlimited lifetime.”
7. Movie Subtitle Site Raided by Copyright Industry Aided by Police
As near as I can figure, this ‘fan site’ consisted of people doing their own original subtitles (meaning no copyright violation) and, in any event, legal precedent apparently means it was entirely legal. Not that that stopped the police action. One more reason why you shouldn’t feel bad about piracy.
“The movie subtitle fansite undertexter.se has been raided by the police and copyright industry. This marks an escalation of the war against sharing culture and knowledge, as the site contained nothing but user-submitted translations of movie dialog. We are quickly coming to a two-tier justice system, where the copyright industry is right against single parents by definition, and that’s not taken very well.”
8. Apple guilty of ebook price fixing, rules federal court
The mantra was “Think Different” which, evidently, does not mean “think legal”. I’m sure a token settlement is in the works.
“After a trial and several settlements with other publishers, a federal judge has ruled that Apple conspired to raise the price of ebooks from major publishers, and a hearing for damages will be held later. Apple was originally accused of price fixing in 2012, along with five of the six major publishers. Several publishers quickly caved, and all had agreed to settlements by early 2013, leaving Apple the only company facing a trial. Now, Judge Denise Cote has found that “the Plaintiffs have shown not just by a preponderance of the evidence but through compelling direct and circumstantial evidence that Apple participated in and facilitated a horizontal price-fixing conspiracy.”
9. Customer Success With Lower-Cost Hydrogen Production Systems Expands Market for Plug Power GenDrive Fuel Cells
I have no particular desire to plug Plug, however, the use of fuel cell powered forklifts makes a surprising amount of sense. Like most fuel cell applications, the challenge is always the production and transportation of hydrogen. Reformers are usually not very efficient at making hydrogen, and compression is not efficient at these small scales, but it seems the inherent benefits of fuel cell forklifts (and those are not ‘green’ in nature) offset those deficiencies.
“Plug Power Inc. (PLUG), a leader in providing clean, reliable energy solutions, today highlights that recent customer success with hydrogen production systems, called on-site reformers, allows GenDrive(R) fuel cells to provide cost-effective power for smaller forklift truck fleets. On-site reformer systems convert natural gas to hydrogen on customer premises, which decreases fuel infrastructure costs and makes hydrogen power more viable.”
10. Why I’d trust my files to Google or Microsoft
What a bizarre story – he seems to understand he is, essentially, making his data public, but he argues they won’t actually do so, presumably because the lawyers just kinda wrote that on a whim. Good thing people never keep private information on the web.
“Cloud storage should be all about peace of mind. With your files backed up online, you don’t need to worry about losing a hard drive or having your laptop stolen. Your photos and documents are safe. But wait, I hear you cry. Don’t you have to click ‘accept’ to terms and conditions used by cloud storage providers like Microsoft and Google? Terms that run into thousands of words and cover their rights to your files?”
11. Nokia’s Lumia 1020 features 41 megapixel camera
Pixels sell cameras, but the number of pixels tells you nothing about picture quality except perhaps, that all else being equal, more is better. Unfortunately, all other things are not equal, and a poor quality, high pixel count sensor is much easier to make than a good quality, lower pixel count sensor. I don’t understand what Nokia hopes to accomplish here: if you want a camera, buy a decent camera.
“Nokia has unveiled a new handset with a 41 megapixel sensor which it claims can record “details never thought possible from a smartphone”. It says consumers will be able to zoom in and reframe their photos without worrying about the image quality suffering. Analysts who have tested the device said that it was “without doubt” the best smartphone camera on the market.”
12. Google Chromebook Under $300 Defies PC Market With Growth
I’m sure that there are probably some segments of the PC market showing the same sort of growth. Given Microsoft’s brilliant efforts to drive customers away with Windows 8, it is not entirely surprizing that alternatives may seem attractive. I would not be surprised if Ubuntu Linux based laptops experience similar demand growth.
“Chromebooks have in just the past eight months snagged 20 percent to 25 percent of the U.S. market for laptops that cost less than $300, according to NPD Group Inc. The devices, which have a full keyboard and get regular software updates from Google, are the fastest-growing part of the PC industry based on price, NPD said.”
13. Five consecutive quarters of sliding PC sales mark a new industry record
Longer replacement cycles, no software innovation, and, if that wasn’t enough, Microsoft’s bizarre OS strategy, means that PC buyers actually end up ahead by not buying a new machine, so declining sales are not surprizing. Not that a less self-destructive effort would make much of a difference, but -5% would be better than -11%.
“In case you weren’t totally sure that the PC manufacturing industry was on the decline, consider this: there have now been five quarters in a row of declining shipments of PCs, the “longest duration of decline in the PC market’s history,” according to new analysis from Gartner Research. In new data published on Wednesday, global shipments fell to 76 million units in the second quarter of 2013, down 10.9 percent from the same period in 2012. IDC, meanwhile, put the drop at 11.7 percent.”
14. Why public libraries should follow Chicago’s lead and build maker labs
Once upon a time schools did this sort of thing, but you can’t even learn basic woodworking at most high schools nowadays. This is probably a good idea, but bound to be expensive.
“…Chicago opened a maker lab in one of its public libraries today. Most maker spaces carry a membership fee of $50-200 a month or are located in an institution like a university, where you are required to be a student or staff member to access equipment. A free lab that is open to the public is a novel concept that will hopefully be a lot more common in the future.”
15. The Customer Phone Companies Don’t Want
It is not entirely surprising that phone companies want to discontinue wireline services given the low penetration rates (only 25%, according to the article). What is interesting – though unaddressed – is what happens to the franchise rights of carriers which were originally obtained in exchange for promises of universal service.
“Robert Post misses his phone line. Post, 85, has a pacemaker that needs to be checked once a month by phone. But the copper wiring that once connected his home to the rest of the world is gone, and the phone company refuses to restore it.”
16. Nikon President Eyes Smartphone Users as Compact Sales Fall
Nikon wasn’t in the ‘point and shoot’ camera business until the emergence of digital photography. After all, ‘point and shoot’ was the domain of the Kodak Instamatic film cameras, and not the sort of thing a ‘real’ camera company would get involved with. The company does make good cameras in the segment, but if it is losing to smartphones it’s because those customers don’t care about the quality of their photographs (as many don’t). Fundamentally, the smartphone camera is the Instamatic of today.
“Nikon is looking at ways to tap smartphone growth as a slump in compact camera sales may lead to weaker-than-forecast earnings. Point-and-shoot camera sales across the industry dropped about a quarter in April and May from a year earlier, President Makoto Kimura said in a July 4 interview at Nikon’s Tokyo headquarters, citing third-party research. Smartphone shipments jumped 46 percent last year to 722 million units, according to Framingham, Massachusetts-based IDC Corp.”
17. Enhanced yet affordable material for supercapacitors: Mass production of 3D mesoporous graphene nano-balls
Along with driverless cars, nanomaterials will likely transform the economy of this century. The challenge has always been manufacturing costs, and this looks like a breakthrough. The specifications look impressive, however, supercapacitors have many real uses beyond the hypothetical use in electric cars, due to the inherent self-discharge.
“Korean Researchers from Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) developed a new method to massively synthesize enhanced yet affordable materials for supercapacitors.”
18. PRISM fallout could cost US cloud industry billions, warns Europe’s digital chief
I warned about this many times over the past years. Nonetheless, a complete lack of real security pretty much defines cloud applications so they should only be used when scalable computing is needed, and never when confidential data of any type needs to be stored.
“US cloud providers could miss out on billions of Euros-worth of deals as a result of European concerns around US government surveillance programmes, the EU’s digital chief has warned. Revelations about the PRISM surveillance project, and other initiatives allowing the US government to access data held by American tech firms, could damage willingness by EU firms to host data with US cloud providers, said Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner for Digital Agenda.”
19. To Make Hearing Aids Affordable, Firm Turns On Bluetooth
The funny thing about hearing aids is that the innards only cost a few dollars to make, and – let’s face it – besides the innards there isn’t much there. So the markup on hearing aids is on the order of thousands of percent, primarily because there is a heavily regulated distribution channel. As for ‘fitting’ well, chances are, people could figure out how to fiddle with the settings themselves, if they were allowed to.
“As many as 300 million people around the world need hearing aids. The vast majority of the 7 million people who get them annually are in the U.S. and Europe. One big reason is cost. On average, a set of hearing aids rings up a tab of about $4,000. Most insurance policies don’t cover them.”
20. App Store ‘full of zombies’ claim on Apple anniversary
To be fair to Apple, and I am rarely fair to Apple, they aren’t the only ones in this position. I recently downloaded an Android app (since deleted) which was the top rated in the category and had had less than 10,000 lifetime downloads. That was the ‘free’ version – not exactly a money maching.
“Apple’s App Store is populated by many “zombie” programs which get next-to-no downloads, new research suggests. Figures seen by the BBC from tracking service Adeven indicate over two-thirds of apps in the store are barely ever installed by consumers. However Apple has said that 90% of all apps in the marketplace – which is marking its five-year anniversary – are downloaded at least once a month.”